From Southpaw to Orthodox Stance

                                                                        

Reinhard Braun After finishing your long-term project, the State of Sabotage (SoS, 2003-2013), what led you to dedicate yourself to a publication project – especially today, where the book has long been under the gun, whether as knowledge repository or relevant archive, what with its slowness of distribution and acquisition, a slowness that “would be a time that gives itself time, i.e. which gives itself time for the slowness of investigation and architectonics” (Alain Badiou)? Why devote yourself to books at a time when completely different media and channels exist that could possibly deal with the same issues as the former do, but more quickly and with potentially broader circulation? What is your specific interest in the book, in publishing, and in material text?

 

Robert Jelinek After concluding SoS in August, 2013, I fell into a deep hole as far as the meaningfulness of subsequent projects was concerned. The decade of work I spent on SoS was an intense relationship. During that time, I never cheated on the project; I didn't even flirt with new interests that might have tickled my fancy. I've never been one to “jungle-gym” from one project to the next either, probably because I don't cling to anything. As long as I find meaning, passion, and feedback in something, I'll pursue it systematically till the end. It took me eight months of regeneration to figure out what I wanted to tackle next artistically. Along with my previous biography and work, linked to my ideas and personal motives, I was thinking especially about how to aesthetically reduce my future work and yet still be able to disseminate it.

Since I'd always rejected the conventional art scene and had never cultivated or surrounded myself with gallery representation, art collectors, or curators, I'd never had to deal with the stress of having to supply the appropriate products or the corresponding image. On the other hand, and also especially because of the diversity of my projects, I intentionally break new ground with each one: from its conception to production to distribution, and even with regard to its recipients. This means that in most cases, along with the concept, financing, execution, and audience, I have to find a “market” to fit the project and understand its structure and rules or, in some cases, invent a new one. What's more, in order to position some projects in new markets, I have to first devise legitimization strategies for the concept of “art” itself. Artists who work within the established art scene can never comprehend this amount of effort, even if they produce something different each day, because they never operate or move beyond the limits of the existing, legitimized industry or market.

In the case of my own publishing house, DER KONTERFEI, it was first and foremost about transforming my daily artistic need to produce into text – or reducing it to text. What do we do our entire lives? We try to make ourselves understood, we ask questions, we search for answers, we formulate them. As a fine artist I express myself primarily through my visual work. Until 2013, aside from research sketches, there were only my outlined ideas, concepts, and portfolios. So it was that much more of a challenge – a personal hurdle – to introduce language as a criterion and to grow from it; to not just describe preconceived and completed works – to not find the language via the form or invent it after the form – but through language, to arrive at form in the first place. To use a boxing metaphor, it was like training myself to switch from southpaw to an orthodox stance. That's probably also due to the fact that my native language is neither German nor English.

There are several motives for still choosing the classical medium of the book today. First of all, I'm a passionate consumer of books myself so I already had an affinity to them. Also, in previous projects I'd had an itching desire to do more research, to deepen my studies, to send myself back to school without wanting to create immediately-usable products – and to get answers from different personalities from various fields to socially-relevant questions that I'd always been dealing with as both an artist and a human being. Many questions and stages in my development also contain ideas and projects that I'd never realized and which, in text form, can open up a different, novel dimension in readers' heads, with the goal of positioning language in a reference relation to an extra-linguistic reality – not creating reality through language, but referring to already-extant realities. Other topics concern buried or submerged knowledge, and with their answers, experts from various fields and disciplines help me to provide particular ideas with concrete forms. In this way my counterpart emerges – the countenance, DER KONTERFEI. These are not only people whose work and approaches I greatly appreciate, but people with whom I empathize to a large degree. Creating my own publishing house has opened several private doors behind which I'm now able to discuss and debate all kinds of artistic and socially-relevant questions with respective experts. Since I publish only ten books a year, I deal intensively with these people, their work, and my connected questions. Most of the publications have a low enough page count that they can be read during a two-hour train ride. There's no claim or aspiration to doing a monograph about a particular person or a scientific dissertation about a particular topic; it's rather about snapshots, samples or foretastes; it's about stimulating people's appetite for more. Sometimes there are outside requests which, if they suit the portfolio, I'll gladly accept and realize.

A further important thought to me is the overriding framework, the foundation of a faculty or academy as an overall project. In all of the volumes published so far by DER KONTERFEI, there's been a note that they are the journals of a future SoS Academy. Since this academy has yet to achieve an official form, my subjective selection of dialog partners and authors allow the volumes to serve as future textbooks. As with the SoS state and its legal recognition, apart from developing a program and curriculum, it's also about ultimately getting official recognition of this SoS Academy. Otherwise, the whole thing devolves into a mere art project.

Of course it's fair to ask why I'm taking up such a retrograde medium as the book in this day and age. I've been publishing my books in cooperation with various international publishing houses and distributors for 25 years now. The book trade has changed a great deal in this period. As an artist who operates a publishing house but doesn't see himself as a publisher I can see what it's suffering from. Traditional booksellers are going extinct because they haven't been fulfilling their actual role for quite a while. Now they just offer bestsellers on consignment or do orders for people who don't have internet connections. I can confirm this from my own experience with DER KONTERFEI, unfortunately. To date, not a single bookstore has ordered a book for its stock, but they order one for a customer almost every day. This means that most books don't even appear anymore in the conventional book trade – they're invisible, they no longer exist there. And it's not just traditional bookshops that are being forced out of business every month by online retailers and price fixing, publishers are going bankrupt too, or being bought out. On the other hand, new markets are opening up: internet platforms, apps, and download options. Today, you can sell books via hashtags and blogs. The few real bookstores I deliver to are merely cosmetic. And just like it's become a matter of course to have a DJ supplying the background music in a second-hand shop, you can now find books in designer outlets or even vegan groceries. It's a bit like in a general store: the exclusive character and the earnestness about them gets lost, but books have also started to liberate themselves from their customary forms of visibility and availability.

Furthermore, haptic printed matter like books, catalogs, magazines, pamphlets, limited editions, etc. have experienced an at least quantitative aesthetic renaissance as a counterpart to new technologies. There's an enormous oversupply at the moment – that's good, but it's also deceptive. My respect goes out to the people who still put out beautifully-designed books – I'm impressed every time I browse through an art bookstore. But to be honest, I wouldn't want to own most of them, even if they were given to me for free. Today, the aesthetic value of a book carries more weight than its contents. There's a reason why more and more bookshops sort their titles according to the color of their spines and why the book trade association awards an annual prize to “Austria's most beautiful book.” The secondary art book market is overcrowded with volumes whose publishers never asked themselves why every single exhibition needs its own publication that only ends up as an unread specimen copy on somebody's shelf. To this day, art publications are generally considered to be mere propaganda disseminated by their respective artists, curators, and galleries – there's no economic interest in or real market demand for them; millions of new exhibition catalogs gather dust in museum basements every year. It's still the rule in the art industry that every publication needs its own publisher, but there are hardly any publishers left to finance them – on the contrary. Instead, publishers have created their own printing houses behind the scenes. Art publications are still financed mainly with public funds, but the funding doesn't go to the artists or museums who apply for it, nor does it even go to the publishers; it flows directly, or through indirect subsidies, to the latter's printing houses. So the supposedly sponsored parties end up keeping the foreign and domestic printers alive with public funds, which is tax money. The publisher gets everything done for free and bears no financial risk, the editors get their specimen copies, and everyone's happy. I've always opposed this recklessness.

When it comes to academic publications, five major corporations rule the roost and publish more than half of all the studies. In this case, the imbalance is especially troublesome since just like in the art sector, the product – the scientific study – doesn't really cost the publisher anything since the studies are produced by researchers themselves, get reviewed by their peers, and are generally financed by taxpayers. As a protest, some academic associations have started self-publishing their studies again, as was historically common. In addition, they've been pushing for open access to scientific publications. What if fine artists and museums were in such a clinch or if authors were calling for an end to cooperation with the most important art publishers? It's unthinkable there, but in the academic world it's become everyday practice.

 

RB That sounds a bit like the time has come for you to do some re-probing and to perhaps gain some distance, since your previous projects have demonstrated such a high degree of involvement – a contemporaneity that interferes with the status quo or, as in the case of SoS, isn't satisfied with representations or symbolic presence, but wishes to establish an actuality, something real, in reality. Is there not something anachronistic or nonconformist in your latest undertaking in the sense that you've developed projects which you've retained control over, including their extent, even though – as Hito Steyerl writes – swarm dissemination is now at the forefront of current trends: digital dispersion, broken and flexible temporalities, and similar things? I don't mean control in the narrow sense of the word. Rather, it could seen as a statement against these quasi-naturalized crazes of distribution, dissemination, investment, and crowd-funding, which attempt to reach ever more people, raise or earn more and more money, produce and sell more and more books, add an e-paper version, build an international distribution network, open a bigger office in a more fashionable part of town, etc. So maybe you're pursuing a model that rejects the particular, seemingly unavoidable, mechanisms of – let's call it post-capitalist – production. In the case of DER KONTERFEI, is it not perhaps also about maintaining a manageable dimension for yourself, after an entity like SoS tended to take on a life of its own, or became too large and complex – and in the horizon of “success” of such a project there lurked not popularity, but maybe an increasing loss of specificity, or where it at least became more difficult to determine the contexts in which it appeared?

 

RJ Contemporaneity and involvement in societal processes is a matter of course in 21st century artistic practice in my opinion. Creating art that serves others as a tool, as a means to an end, and which remains art-historically relevant has always been important to me. I think that DER KONTERFEI is an extremely timely project since we're surrounded and dominated by a common understanding that mainly keeps supposedly clarified things alive – things we can't let go of or let die, an understanding against which no one is developing any relevant counter-contents. We're not willing to take any risks, which is why the empty casket of the mourning industry gets redecorated daily. This is where one has to fundamentally rethink one's role as an artist. In the best case scenario, you might glimpse an answer of why an artist does something, but not for whom or to what end. Artists have completely abandoned direct responsibility and emancipation on equal terms in their practices, whereas the peer-to-peer model has been taking hold of the market economy since the 2000s. Of course capitalistic greed for growth eventually ruins every original intention, every promise, every form of solidarity, and every kind of community spirit. But Blockchain, Bitcoin, Airbnb, Uber, eBay, or Facebook were all great ideas at the beginning. The assets behind them are not only economic or material, they're intellectual and spiritual. Drawing upon this peer-to-peer asset culture is an important approach to me because it runs parallel to our societal and global sustainability. It's not just about what you possess or about your talents, skills, or knowledge, it's plainly and simply about what you can do with them. What are we able to do with our abilities? The old medium of the book isn't anachronistic. What's anachronistic is engaging with an immaterial asset culture within a never-satisfied society, even if it's just about raising buried knowledge to the surface. And that's why I see myself justified in having invested not only my energy, but also my intellectual and spiritual assets in DER KONTERFEI and its books over the last few years. The creative friction occurs not only through my choice of dialog partners, but also between myself and the public in the form of presentations, or even in the simple taking and dispatching of book orders.

RB The people you make books with and about are people who engage in consistently obsessive behavior and devote themselves to very specific topics or practices over long periods of time. They also maintain consistent positions. It's a matter of very different “careers” and because of the ongoing long-term passions involved, they often drift into extreme obsessions or at any rate remain firmly dedicated to a particular idea.

 

RJ That's right. They can't help it. I feel similar. I like to surround myself with people like them; they're all different, but what connects them, along with their strong, consistent positions, is an obsession with an idea or a vision as a creative outlet. And this outlet is basically their work, their contribution to realizing their desire to live in a better society. This connects me to them and it's why I see these personalities as comrades in spirit. I've just completed my conversation with free climber Alain Robert, who's been scaling the world's tallest buildings without ropes or protection for over twenty years, mostly illegally. That provides my approach to architecture and it yields completely different questions and issues than if I'd interviewed an architect.

 

RB The book series appears to be a specific anthology of deviants, of the marginalized, and the overlooked. Are you also thinking of a particular idea of an archive, possibly in the sense of an archive of suppressed knowledge or at least of scattered knowledge, seeing as your books represent a cross-section of the present that one would hardly have thought of in this form? What's the main appeal of this kind of otherness to you?

 

RJ As far as the age group of my conversation partners is concerned, DER KONTERFEI is almost like a pensioners' club. There are several reasons for this. First of all, some of them were eyewitnesses to various historical events that often happened differently than the way they've been recorded in history books, confirmed on Wikipedia, or whatever Google spits out. Secondly, along with their strong positions and views, several of my conversation partners also have big mouths – they simply state their opinions outright. This stands in direct contradiction to the current trends towards conformity within today's companies and corporations – one gets the impression that these people have been relegated to playing in the second division so to speak. As for success, you can't expect people like John Carpenter to direct another Hollywood blockbuster. Bill Drummond to earn another million pounds and publicly burn it, Erich von Däniken to sell another 70 million books, or Herbert Nitsch to dive deeper than 250 meters with just one breath. These accomplishments are history, so thirdly it's about drawing the value, the significance, and the substance from their respective biographies, linking that to what they're working on today, and in so doing submitting their societal relevance for discussion. All of these highly diverse people are connected by totality and independence, by an inner drive, and an unrelenting belief in an idea or utopia. To achieve or realize their visions, many of them have become quasi-outlaws. And finally, in the preliminary stages of making contact, I try to establish a rapport and a relationship with them via the topics I wish to discuss, a relationship we enter into for a certain period of time and which is deepened by my respective counterpart. Some of these relationships become friendships that continue beyond a particular project.

When it comes to immaterial assets, the archival aspect of DER KONTERFEI is definitely of interest. The archive would have the form of asset management in an active sense, where an archivist makes investment decisions for his or her clients. The goal would be to optimize the publishing house's asset management or portfolio according to specific risk situations, risk appetite, as well as life planning. In this sense – if one were to ask how my books should be categorized, as art or science – I'd choose a different category for DER KONTERFEI and would prefer that of asset management.

An immaterial asset archive also means demonstrating the willingness to put up one's own assets for discussion and debate. And here's where anachronism comes back into play: There's a current longing for conservative values which has also seized urban bohemians. People are becoming increasingly unwilling to make their knowledge and work available to the public – they prefer to make do in their microcosms. The same milieus that used to experiment with alternative life designs are now focussed on financial security, maintaining their status, and adapting to predefined structures. This Biedermeier-like situation means a retreat into private life. People feel that they're being less and less represented. We've lost our leading concepts and our terminology, especially those of political emancipation and identity, which have dissolved and surrendered any of the progressive potential they once exhibited. In his book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jacques Rancière argues that all intelligences are equal through their own emancipation, regardless of their upbringing or financial background. This means that if everyone emancipates themselves, they become synchronized or in phase -- they'll be on the same wavelength. In the case of DER KONTERFEI I try to position two intelligences within a field where they can communicate with each other and, in the course of discussion which results in the book, create a deposit of equality. Only through emancipation does the establishment of equality in the sense of identity-formation become possible.

 

RB The rehabilitation of the archive isn't just about a stack of books lying around on shelves. Rather, an archive is also a space in which history is produced. The archive plays an essential role as an important paradigm of our ability to narrate various realities. It can be a place of rewriting, reinterpretation, and rereading. With our archive, which we've digitalized and made available over the course of the last two years, we at Camera Austria think that one can restitute an archive – give it back to the public – after it's been withheld from them for whatever reason. It's something that's been happening a lot in the last few years, since many archives have only recently released important collections and made them accessible, and many artists have been tenaciously searching these archives for evidence or materials in order to revise common historical conceptions. Ines Schaber, a German artist who teaches in Los Angeles, calls this a “working archive” – the archive as a place of negotiation and re-writing. It's not only a historical depository, it's also a place where history is written or a space that offers the opportunity for history to be rewritten when elements of the archive are viewed, read, or connected in different ways. But every archive also has its own material practice. How can one imagine the A-to-Z process you mentioned at DER KONTERFEI in practice? Is it Robert Jelinek who packs up and sends out all the orders and participates in every stage of the production chain and who clears all the texts for publication? Do you consider DER KONTERFEI to be a future archive at all?

 

RJ That's how it is. It's part of my daily operation. When things get out of hand, other people help out. And of course there's an established team of graphic artists, translators, proofreaders, photographers, and presentation personnel.

As regards the archive and library landscape in Germany, three years ago, the board of trustees of the Berlin Central and Regional Library resolved that every book that hasn't been borrowed for two years is to be destroyed.

A further aspect of the archive that I find interesting is the idea of the Vorlass, which is when people begin embedding their artistic estate or archive in the public domain when they're still alive – as opposed to the Nachlass – and attempt to set up a kind of receiving station. I don't mean a devotional or memorial space, or when someone just feeds their Instagram account every day. People have extended their antennas, it just requires fine tuning the airwaves in order to dive into such intellectual and spiritual immersion spaces. With peer-to-peer participation and in the sense of “smart property,” a Vorlass archive could be a transfer site and a tool for a new asset culture.

 

RB A few years ago, Marie Röbl – who now supervises the Peter Coeln collection – and I conducted a study for the ministry precisely about the question of Vorlass and Nachlass archives of a first generation of artistic photographers in Austria. It turned out that the museums weren't interested in it because they had reached their capacities for wading through all this material a long time ago. This touches on a different, although connected, question: What is the actual role that museums see themselves performing today – to just exhibit, or to also critically engage with art history or even their own histories?

On the other hand, a lot has happened in the field of academia in the last fifteen years. There have been a number of efforts to rethink or re-conceive the academy or university for the 21st century, for example: Ahmet Ögüts “Silent University”; the “Copenhagen Free University”; or – already in the 1960s – the “Antiuniversity of London.” The old notions of learning, education, training, and the hierarchical organization of knowledge have been called into question by the ideas of “un-education” and “de-schooling” – pedagogical concepts that reject the classical transfer of knowledge from someone who knows to someone who doesn't, in order to render knowledge visible in a different form – knowledge that in some cases might not have a space for visibility and perceptibility and therefore no relevance in a classical sense – knowledge that one can only approach if one has unlearned or forgotten other ideas. In Graz there was an initiative that lasted several years to establish something like an alternative art education system but – little surprise – it failed to yield any lasting results. Along these lines, the entire politics of knowledge has been fundamentally challenged in the last few years. Which direction do you lean towards with your academy idea?

 

RJ It's about accompaniment, redesign, emancipation, and the conditioning of social reflexes. Generally speaking, all of the classical institutions of education and training – these huge, ponderous old freighters with their fixed courses and cargoes – have to be critically torpedoed. This applies to the entire contemporary education system. It's still stuck in the ideas of the last two centuries that one can actually educate, bring up, and teach other people – a notion from a time when one valiantly endeavored to train and prepare them to perform certain tasks, which they could then adequately fulfill without asking too many questions. Behavior is conditioned by reward or punishment and defined in the desired way as instruction, as education. Even today, a lot of people consider it to be a law of nature that school is a place to fear, and 40% of children and youths are afraid of going there. A modern society can't afford this waste of potential. After their school years a lot of graduates say that school was the worst time of their lives. And afterwards? The more people who get academic degrees, the less the value of those degrees appears. Why is that? A number of accredited study programs disappear after a while, so it's entirely possible that one's own subject won't exist anymore after a few years. Ideas like a “twilight of the disciplines,” symbolic capital, value paradox, and slow education are high on today's agenda. Cobbled-together “cluster studies” won't help people attain holistic knowledge either, just as information doesn't automatically mean knowledge. A lot of what can maybe later be sold down the road, even if only outside of the market, is growing, and many of the jobs and qualifications that will be needed in the next twenty years haven't even been invented yet. The quality of education isn't getting lost because of too many students attending university, but because too many of them are being trained in too short a time by too few professors in too many things aimed at quick applicability.

My approach is to address the deficits of meaning and to urge consensus-arrangers and discourse-mediators to intervene in societal processes and actively help shape democracy. DER KONTERFEI isn't intended to be just a think tank or thought laboratory, it should also provide exciting impulses and induce a change of conditions by means of artistic and scientific tools – whether in the form of political activism, social participation, or civil disobedience, the senses should be sharpened once again. The SoS Academy has a migrant foreground in the sense of nonconformity, not a background in the sense of history. The SoS Academy is intended to provide positive motivation and to communicate the potential of humanist knowledge through the publications of the SoS Journal. With DER KONTERFEI as impetus, the founding of the SoS Academy has already begun.

RB In the history of art there's a long tradition of intervention in public spaces and discourses, whereby artists have always acted within a very ambivalent field, especially concerning the extent to which art enlists its protagonists or engages in paternalistic “enlightenment,” such as, in order to get their members off drugs, attempting to “educate” communities in a rough area of New York and impart to them a political consciousness about the struggles they should actually be leading, etc. One of the criticisms of the “new genre public art” was that it only served to deepen the divide between the social public and the art domain. Can you imagine completely abandoning this recurring and repeatedly failing idea of effecting change through art – or even the idea of reconciling art and life – and thereby giving up the idea of art itself? Or: to what extent is art – in whatever form – still, if at all, important to the formulation, development, and realization of your projects? What role does this difficult balancing act still play between the kind of art where you still have to legitimize yourself and that which, as art, prevents you from realizing your ideas? Do you envision other borders for yourself or, indeed, a general withdrawal from art itself?

 

RJ In contemporary art, the antiquated idea of the genius has reached a premium again – but it's no longer the genius as existentialist; the maniac, the socially-incapable, the refusenik. No, today it's about people who haven't really mastered their craft, but have achieved success through extremely clever and efficient strategies. You can see how giftedly polemical, helplessly pretentious, and exploitative art can be when you look at how today's artists approach societal topics like minority issues. Since 2015, the impression has been growing that capitalist artists like Ai Weiwei or activists like those of the Center for Political Beauty have been defining the terrain, and in the last two years there's been hardly a city theater that hasn't gotten along without a play in which refugees play refugees. A mixture of spectacle, escalation, and admonishment has always been good business. The theater continues to maintain its claim of being a moral institution, despite all its apparent instant hustle and bustle – as if there couldn't be art without regular deliveries of fresh life, preferably still bloody – just as the prejudice is commonplace among those who've stopped going to the theater that there are fewer and fewer directors who know their craft, but more and more geniuses.

I've never had an attachment or obligation to an establishment like the one you were describing. But I do feel obligated to what I consider to be art, which I espouse and also put up for debate. I've developed a healthy distance to the established art scene, both personally and artistically. I've seen that a lot of artistically interesting things happen outside of this establishment, but which presumably aren't conceived or created as art, or don't have an artistic originator at all. It's something that's been bothering me since I was 16 – something that I define for myself as art and which primarily means emancipation to me. I just have to find a way to establish it. One has to have this equipment, and its application belongs to artistic-missionary practice. Otherwise it just becomes a therapeutic or system-inherent, system-serving end in itself. The contemporary role of the artist is now in immanent danger. If artists aren't willing and able to re-appropriate the responsibility and position they've surrendered and to expand the established system in which they work, the “expanded concept of art” will soon mean that dedicated producers of art will no longer be needed and that artists will disappear entirely – and voluntarily. In their stead will come an army of curators and opinion-makers who've already begun to assume a number of the tasks and responsibilities of artists. Furthermore, western society shaped the receptors for sensitization to and expectations of art a long time ago. Loosely speaking: the demand on art as a meaning-maker has allowed it to be sprinkled like powdered sugar over sports cars as art objects, over the battle of the sexes as an art form, over idleness as the art of living, and over government programs as art styles. This means that art is degenerating into a concept without an originator, or something that no longer has originators. This ship has sailed already. Art is withering into talented handicraft, decorative financial investment, a speculative bubble, or into mere genius status. Nevertheless, at least there will still be paintings hanging on the bulkheads of future spaceships.

 

RB Does it still seem credible to you that the art scene or some of its institutions attempt to block certain points of access in order to gain a space in which to search for other questions? It appears that because of conditions inherent in the system, it hasn't been possible for you to convey and communicate your projects in the art sector in a way that would have been important to you – although I still believe, perhaps naively, that in the field of art and its institutions it's still possible to speak, think, and conceive differently than in the world of politics. I've dug out a Tom Holert quotation: “Art is effective in the sense of being 'concrete' when and where it changes thinking and feeling, or rather affects them. In tangency, which elicits a modification of the way in which the possibilities of action and intervention in existent orders can be imagined, lies a crucial function of art. Such an effect eludes measurability. It points to moments in politics at the beginning of changes, whose connection to art is never obvious, always dubious, but nonetheless indisputable.”

 

RJ Since I was 16, I've always understood an artist to be someone who's able to capture the last free space in society – free space as the last unregulated safe haven from which one can make a statement; where, like you quoted, the “effect eludes measurability.” But that's just a nice, naive desire. Precisely because of artistic immeasurability, this so-called free space has become an exploitative system. A system always creates rules, signs, and structures, and they demand to be clearly followed and measured. An artist whose actions, positions, and works can't be regulated or calculated by the art scene and market is a disruptive factor – a nuisance, an absolute bogeyman.

Since I don't produce artworks for any predefined art audience, the effects of my work also can't be disseminated there – it's simply impossible. It would be like a comedian making jokes about bureaucrats in front of an audience of public servants – everybody laughs, but no one feels like it's really directed at them. It already begins with one's expectations when entering an exhibition space. I've always had something against a hermetically-sealed understanding of art that acts as if it were really interested in society. The people who run things have their reasons for walling themselves off in their own biotopes, but that's precisely where I mount the barricades right away. Just the thought of hanging a picture on a white wall gives me hives. When I first started really getting involved with art, I was much more interested in the people who were radically reflecting on their contemporary circumstances and who wanted to influence their societal discourses than in the so-called artists who operated like bees building their honeycombs.

Speak in a way that your contemporaries recognize themselves and those who come later can understand us. In view of today's reality, that's a grand and wonderful aspiration. If you take it seriously, you have to first comprehend what's really going on. You don't leave the field of art just because you're invisible to the conventional art scene. A way forward and a contribution to this grand aspiration might lie in the expansion and enhancement of art. And maybe I'm one of the enhancers.

 

This conversation took place at Camera Austria in Graz on November 11, 2017. The present text was revised and expanded for publication.